I sometimes dream of moving away, starting somewhere new, a place that I can make all new memories instead of constantly reliving the old, staying in the place where all the old memories come from. Maybe we’d go to Florida, where my grandma lives and it never snows. Maybe we could go down South, to a tiny town where everybody knows your name. We could buy an old farmhouse with that wraparound porch I’ve always wanted and live quietly and peacefully, friendly with all of our neighbors, sipping sweet tea in the sun. Or maybe we could swing the opposite way, move to a big city, the Big Apple, one of my favorite places in the world. We could hole up in a tiny studio apartment, downsize all of our stuff, get lost in the crowds, say “hi” to no one and live anonymously. There is so much appeal in all of these places, all of these scenarios. There’s something to be said about beginning anew, discovering home in a place that was never home before.
But there’s something to be said about planting roots right where you are. There’s something to be said about staying, too.
I know that for some people, leaving is the only option, the only thing that makes sense. There are some people that get that itch, that need to flee, whose wings want nothing more than to carry them away from here. I know because my best friend is one of them. He left and he will never come back (not for good, anyway) and it kind of breaks my heart on a bad day. I think of all the antics we found ourselves in during our high school days and it makes me laugh, but sometimes I’d rather cry. Those times are gone and so is he.
But I get it. I can’t be mad or even resentful. I know some people just feel in their hearts that they don’t belong in a certain place and they won’t feel home until they leave. They won’t feel home until they pack up their things and start over somewhere else that feels more like home than their home actually did. When I see another person leave, another old classmate or friend pack up their things and start over in a new state, or even just a new town, I always get a pang of envy. I always marvel at their ability to leave, to discover the world, to meet new people and find home somewhere that isn’t here. I want to be that person sometimes. Unafraid to leap, to fly, to discover.
I’m not that person though. Home is here. My city, and even more specifically, my town within my city. That restaurant up the street (Carmines), those stores I shopped in with my mom as a little girl, that library I grew up in and now work. I could drive these streets without even looking, know the patterns of the traffic lights, which ones turn green and when. I could never get lost here, recognizing every landmark like it’s the back of my hand instead of a building or a tree. Leaving the town limits always gets me a little anxious, calming down only when I am firmly back here again.
Leaving. It always gives me a little thrill, too. I live in a very large city comprised of many towns. We are all one city, all part of one county, but the towns are all a little different, each with their own school district, own library, own little places that make it a home: restaurants, parks, places that you only know well if that’s your town. Out of all of the towns here, mine is near the bottom of list, steadily declining in quality as crime rate gradually increases. I’d like to get out, move to one of the next towns over – most of my friends have, it’s no big deal, just 15 minutes from my house. The schools are better, the crime is lower, the places are just nicer. I’ve thought about it, dream about it, look at the real estate every night and check out all of the new listings. I dream about a nicer house in a nicer town. No one else was afraid to leave. Why am I?
Those places, even 15 minutes away… they just aren’t home. I get lost easily. I don’t know the stores, the restaurants. The cashier at Aldi won’t stop to chat and ask me where Caleb is (sick at Grandma’s today), and they won’t know us all well enough to say, “well it’s fine – he loves Grandma!” like my favorite cashier told me yesterday. My parents, my brother, my aunt won’t all be up the street, in different directions but never more than ten minutes away anyway. My memories won’t flood back every day, as I still see me and my friends laughing as we walked home from school every time I drive that route that we used to walk. And it’s not a small town… not by far. Nearly 100,000 residents in this town alone, the city itself much larger. But it starts to feel small — in a good way, in an “I’m home way” — when you go to all the same places, see all the same faces your entire life.
Maybe we will leave one day. Maybe we will retire to an old farmhouse if I catch one at the right time. Maybe it will be my dream home and I’ll paint the walls and put chairs on that porch I’ve always wanted. Maybe we’ll go in a few years, so Caleb can go to school in a district that is better than the one right here. Maybe I’ll have a 20 minute drive to work, instead of five. Maybe we will find new stores, new landmarks, new restaurants. Maybe one day I will learn the streets, memorize the traffic lights, feel home in a place that isn’t home now. But for now, I will stay, in the place that isn’t the nicest place, but the place I’ve been since I was born. The place I came home from the hospital. The place where I brought my son home from the hospital.
One day when I am old and maybe not here anymore, I will remember raising my son in this home in this town. I will remember my childhood, fighting with my brother, playing with my cousins in my parent’s home in this town. I will always laugh and sometimes cry with the remembering, with the nostalgia, with the happy times and even the bad ones. And even if isn’t technically my home anymore, it will always be a part of me, will always somehow be home, even when it isn’t.